The Silver Circle in Iceland: Driving Itinerary

Waterfall in Iceland.

While many travellers flock to Iceland’s famous Golden Circle, there is another circular route that is somewhat of a hidden gem: The Silver Circle. This picturesque journey is filled with natural wonders, showing you everything that Iceland has to offer.

Where is the Silver Circle?

Nestled in the scenic Borgarfjörður region in western Iceland, it is possible to visit the attractions of the Silver Circle in a single-day trip from Reykjavík city. 

The whole route is around 283 km [175,8 mi] and takes just over four hours to drive without any stops. Needless to say you will want to take your time to enjoy the beautiful scenery and rich history of the region. The trip can easily be extended to a two day trip with an overnight stay at the charming Húsafell farm estate or at Reykholt village. 

The must-see’s of the Silver Circle are:

  1. Deildartunguhver: The most powerful hot spring in Europe.
  2. Hraunfossar and Barnafoss: two of the most beautiful waterfalls in the region with glacial water falling from the lava cliffs. 
  3. Reykholt: a historic village and research centre filled with mediaeval history. 
  4. Húsafell: a small farm and church estate and cultural centre.
  5. Víðgelmir: a 1600 m [0,9 mi] long lava cave with multi coloured rocks.

 

First stop – Deildartunguhver hot spring

The first stop of the Silver Circle is Deildartunguhver hot spring. The drive from Reykjavík is about 105 km [65 mi] and takes approximately 1,5 hours.

Deildartunguhver is the most powerful hot spring in Europe, providing 180 litres [47,5 gallons] of boiling hot water per second. The landscape around the hot spring is characterised by the unique geothermal features of the area. The rising steam combined with the red rocks surrounded by vividly green moss makes for a beautiful scenery. 

The area is easily accessible with viewing platforms surrounding the hot spring. Nonetheless, it is extremely important to be careful and adhere to all safety guidelines and stay within the designated areas.

Hot springs in Iceland.
Steam at Deildartunguhver hot springs.

 

Second stop – Reykholt village

Reykholt village is only a ten minute drive from Deildartunguhver hot spring. This tiny village is one of the most historic places in Iceland.

The village was the hometown of Snorri Sturluson (1179 – 1241), who was a very important writer, politician and historian in the Middle Ages.
His written works
Edda and Heimskringla are priceless contributions to preserving the history of the vikings and the Old Norse language and mythology. 

In Reykholt you will also find Snorrastofa, a cultural centre for research and mediaeval studies. There you can visit an exhibition of Snorri´s life, his work and discover more about the rich history of the Borgarfjörður region.

Being such a historic place it comes as no surprise that Reykholt village is an extremely fruitful archeological site. Remains of a mediaeval farm have been excavated, that might even have belonged to Snorri himself. It´s also home to the oldest geothermal pool in Iceland, Snorralaug, the first ever archeological site listed in Iceland. 


Third stop – Hraunfossar waterfalls

After taking in the mediaeval history in Reykholt village, the third stop, Hraunfossar waterfalls, will only be a 15-20 minute drive from there.

Hraunfossar literally means Lava Waterfalls and takes its name from the 900 metre [2950 ft] long lava cliff it falls off. The Hraunfossar waterfalls are considered an extremely beautiful phenomenon with glacial water emerging from the lava, creating many small waterfalls pouring down into the river below. The water originates from Langjökull glacier and emerges with Hvítá river, which is the source of the famous Gullfoss waterfall. 

Barnafoss waterfall

Barnafoss or Children´s waterfall, is only a few minutes walk from Hraunfossar waterfalls. 

The waterfall draws its name from a tragic accident that is said to have happened centuries ago. When crossing a stone arch over the river, two children are believed to have fallen into the waterfall. According to folklore the mother of the children had the arch destroyed to prevent further tragedies. 

Today it is possible to cross the river on a sturdy bridge and admire both Hraunfossar and Barnafoss waterfalls from different angles. Even though the name comes from a horrifying tale, the bright blue Barnafoss waterfall and the powerful glacial river make for a beautiful scenery.

Icy river in Iceland with a bridge crossing.
Photo: Signe. Barnafoss waterfall in the wintertime.


Fourth stop – Húsafell farming estate

The fourth stop on the Silver Circle is the Húsafell farming estate. The drive from Hraunfossar waterfalls takes about ten minutes. 

Húsafell is a small farm and church estate that now serves as a hub for travellers visiting and residing in the surrounding area. It is a destination frequented by locals, many of which have holiday houses in the area. Nearby you will also find a campsite, a hotel and other short term lodgings.

This would be the perfect place to camp for the night if you wish to extend your Silver Circle journey into a two day trip.

What to do in Húsafell farm?

There are many beautiful hiking trails in the area which is one of the few wooded areas left in Iceland. 

Húsafell farm also has numerous other activities to keep you busy. You can go swimming at the local pool, play a round of golf, go horseback riding, book a cave-trip to one of the nearby ice- or lava caves, have a relaxing soak at the Húsafell geothermal Canyon Baths and wine and dine at the local restaurant. 

Here you can find tours and guided activities to do while in Húsafell. 

Photo: Erik. Húsafell Canyon Baths.

The Húsafell Stone

The Húsafell stone is a legendary lifting stone weighing 186 kg [410 lb]. Originally the stone, which actually has the name Kvíahellan or Pen slab, was used as the gate to a sheep pen built in the 18th century. 

The stone has been used for centuries to test physical strength by lifting and carrying it around. It is measures as follows:

  • Amlóði (lazybones): Able to lift the stone up to your knees.
  • Hálfsterkur (half-strong): Able to lift the stone up to the waist level. 
  • Fullsterkur (full-strong): Able to lift the stone up to the chest and walk with it for 34 metres [112 ft] 

Anyone willing can put their strength to test but seeing the stone has no handles it can be very difficult to grip, let alone lift. 

 

Fifth stop – Víðgelmir lava cave

The last but certainly not the least stop on the Silver Circle route is Víðgelmir lava cave. The drive from Húsafell farm is approximately 11 km [6.8 mi] and takes about 17 minutes. 

This stunning lava cave is 1600 metres [0,9 mi] long and takes you deep inside a lava flow, filled with stunning stalagmites, ice and lava formations and multi-coloured rocks. You can only go inside the cave with an experienced and knowledgeable guide who will guide you safely into this remarkable geological phenomenon. It is advisable to book a tour in advance of your trip.

 

Additional Silver Circle adventures:

Into The Glacier

Enhance your Silver Circle experience with these exciting activities and attractions:

  1. Krauma spa is a modern geothermal spa with six baths: five hot ones, with water coming straight from the nearby Deildartunguhver hot springs, and one cold one with water from Langjökull glacier. Enjoy the panoramic views of the surrounding landscape while soaking in the naturally warm water. Krauma spa welcomes visitors all year-round between 11 AM and 21 PM local time. 
  2. Have you ever wanted to go horseback riding on an Icelandic horse? This is possible at different locations throughout the Silver Circle route. 
  3. Into the glacier is an ice cave experience at Langjökull, the second largest glacier in Iceland. Enjoy this extraordinary experience of exploring the glacier from the inside. 
  4. Hike through the wilderness, past Langifoss waterfall all the way up to the Húsafell Canyon Baths during your stay at Húsafell farm estate. Enjoy a relaxing soak in these geothermal hot spring baths surrounded by mountains, canyons and glaciers.
  5. Þingvellir National Park is officially a part of the Golden Circle tour but on your way back to Reykjavík city you could make a small detour to the historic Þingvellir park. 

 

Can I drive the Silver Circle on my own?

Yes, the Silver Circle route is easily accessible with your own car. Bear in mind that driving conditions vary depending on the time of year and the weather.

However, if you would rather sit back, relax and enjoy having an experienced guide and driver, there are many different Silver Circle tours available. Some of which even combine the main stops with other attractions such as Glanni waterfall, Paradísarlaut hollow and Grábrók crater.

Whether you choose to explore the Silver Circle on your own or with a guided tour, one thing is certain: the Silver Circle will be an unforgettable journey through Iceland’s untamed beauty.

Grindavík Businesses Call for More Access

A group of 144 Grindavík businesses have sent an appeal to Icelandic authorities calling for more access to the evacuated town so they can keep their operations running. The town’s municipal authorities have released a statement backing the call. If Grindavík businesses are forced to relocate elsewhere, it’s a death sentence for the community, locals say.

Three eruptions in three months

The town of Grindavík (pop. 3,800), on Iceland’s Reykjanes peninsula, has been more or less evacuated since November 10, when powerful seismic activity damaged buildings are roads in and around the community. Crevasses formed by the activity now crisscross the town, making it dangerous to access certain areas. A worker who fell into a crevasse last month while attempting to repair it has not been found.

Since December, three eruptions have occurred near Grindavík. The second of these, in January, destroyed three houses at the north edge of the town, while the third, in February, flowed over the main road into Grindavík (Route 43). Seismic activity and historical data indicate that further eruptions can be expected in the area.

Fishing industry is main employer

“What all the companies have in common is that they have been very seriously damaged by all the access restrictions,” Pétur Hafsteinn Pálsson told RÚV. He is the CEO of Grindavík seafood company Vísir and acting spokesperson for the 144 businesses in question. “This appeal is primarily about taking matters into our own hands,” Pétur continues, saying that Grindavík contractors have been repairing crevasses across the town and would be able to manage greater access safely on their own, without deferring to authorities.

Pétur and other business owners say the town should be opened to businesses sooner after eruptions are over. “We think that the time between eruptions could have been utilised much better that it has been.” He adds, however, that safety must always be the top priority.

Town’s survival depends on businesses

Grindavík is one of the few towns on the southwest stretch of Iceland’s coast that has a harbour. The fishing industry is the town’s largest employer, with public service being the second largest. Municipal authorities in Grindavík have seconded businesses’ appeal with a statement of their own. “The situation is no longer emergency response, rather a long-term event and businesses have reached their limits and now need to begin creating goods rather than rescuing valuables.”

It is unclear whether or when Grindavík residents will be able to live in the town once more, and the government has offered to buy the homes of those who would prefer to relocate. The businesses’ appeal states, however: “In order for the town to have a chance to build up again, the businesses need to keep their lights on.”

M4.5 Quake Rocks Southwest Iceland

svartsengi power plant reykjanes

An M4.5 earthquake registered near Trölladyngja on the Reykjanes peninsula shook Southwest Iceland around 10:50 this morning.

A smaller, secondary M3.9 earthquake was registered soon after, at 10:54 local time. Smaller aftershocks were also registered.

reykjanes earthquake
Met Office Iceland

According to the Meteorological Office of Iceland, the earthquakes originated at a depth of 5 km [3 mi]. The Meteorological Office further stated that they are likely “trigger” quakes, which accompany magma movement.

The quakes were felt throughout much of South and West Iceland. The epicentre was located at around 20 km [12 mi] north-northeast of the Svartsengi power plant, where recent land rise due to magma intrusion has been detected.

Stay up to date with the latest on the Reykjanes peninsula here.

 

Grindavík Residents May Be Home for Christmas

grindavík evacuation

The evacuation order on Grindavík may be lifted in time for residents to return to their homes for Christmas, according to the Chief of Suðurnes Police. Authorities are waiting for the next risk assessment from the Icelandic Met Office to make a final decision on the matter. The Southwest Iceland town (pop. 3,600) was evacuated on November 10 due to seismic activity and the risk of a volcanic eruption.

Seismic activity has calmed

In late October and early November, a powerful earthquake swarm and land deformation damaged roads, homes, and infrastructure in Grindavík. On November 10, residents were ordered to evacuate the town, and the evacuation order remains in effect. While seismic activity has since calmed, a “danger phase” remains in effect for the Grindavík area. Residents are now permitted to enter Grindavík between 7:00 AM and 9:00 PM but are not allowed to stay overnight.

Chief of Suðurnes Police Úlfar Lúðvíksson says that most Grindavík residents have respected the evacuation order, though Vísir reports that one restauranteur refused to leave the town yesterday evening. Seismic activity in the town has calmed, as well as land rise, though it continues in the Svartsengi area north of Grindavík.

Waiting for risk assessment

“I expect the Met Office to update their risk assessment map on Wednesday,” Úlfar told Vísir. “I’m waiting for that day because we weight and evaluate the situation every day and if we believe there’s reason to lift the evacuation then, with good reasoning, then we’ll do that.”

Magma Could Threaten Grindavík Again (and Again)

grindavík evacuation

Magma may start flowing into the dike underneath the town of Grindavík again days or months from now. The Icelandic town remains evacuated and experts say it is not clear when it will be safe for its residents to return to their homes. While an eruption near the town, located on the Reykjanes peninsula, is now considered less likely in the short term, a new phase of seismic activity may be beginning.

In late October, an earthquake swarm and uplift began on the Reykjanes peninsula near the town of Grindavík indicating magma collecting underground. The magma intrusion grew and filled a dike stretching beneath the town, leading authorities to issue an evacuation order on November 10 due to the risk of eruption.

A new chapter of activity

Magma inflow to the dike has likely stopped, according to a notice from the Met Office, and the chances of an eruption happening along the dike at this time have decreased. However, magma continues to accumulate just north of Grindavík, beneath Svartsengi, where a geothermal power plant and the Blue Lagoon are located. “The ongoing activity at Svartsengi, which began in October, is not yet over and a new chapter may have begun with an increased chance of a new magma propagation and, subsequently, increased likelihood of an eruption,” the Met Office notice states.

“[T]he dike beneath Grindavík was fed by magma accumulating beneath Svartsengi. It is likely that this sequence of events will repeat,” the notice continues. A new magma propagation would provide a warning in the form of earthquakes and ground deformation, which would be detected by equipment “several hours before the magma propagation is likely to pose a threat to Svartsengi or Grindavík.”

Timeline impossible to estimate

According to the Met Office, this pattern of magma accumulating beneath Svartsengi and flowing into the dike that stretches below Grindavík is likely to happen again, even repeatedly. However, it is impossible to estimate whether that will be “in the next few days or possibly after several months.”

Kristín Jónsdóttir, Head of the Volcanos, Earthquakes, and Deformation Department at the Icelandic Met Office, told RÚV it was not clear when it would be safe for Grindavík residents to return to their homes.

Iceland’s Parliament Proposes Tax to Fund Lava Barriers

Grindavík earthquakes crevasse

Iceland’s Parliament held its first reading of a bill that proposes an additional 0.08% property tax to fund the building of lava barriers that would protect key infrastructure on the Reykjanes peninsula from a potential eruption. The town of Grindavík, located on the south side of the peninsula, was evacuated last Friday due to strong earthquakes and a magma dyke forming beneath the town. The town and surrounding area have sustained damage to roads, homes, and power and water infrastructure.

Additional property tax to fund barriers

The parliamentary bill proposes levying an additional tax on homeowners in Iceland equivalent to 0.08% of their property’s fire insurance valuation (brunabótamat) in order to fund the building of lava barriers. The owner of a property worth ISK 100 million [$695,000, €650,000] would therefore pay an additional ISK 8,000 [$56, €52] in taxes per year if the bill is passed in its current form.

“Temporary” tax hike

The tax would be imposed for a period of three years and is projected to funnel nearly ISK 1 billion [$6.95 million, €6.5 million] into state coffers. MPs expressed a strong desire to help the residents of Grindavík and protect infrastructure on the peninsula, which includes the Svartsengi Power Plant. However, Pirate Party MP Þórhildur Sunna Ævarsdóttir and Centre Party Chairman Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson argued that any lava barriers constructed should be paid for with existing tax revenue.

Iceland’s government has imposed such “temporary” taxes in response to natural disasters and to finance disaster prevention measures in the past, many of which later became permanent, as Vísir reports. After the Heimaey eruption in 1973, the government raised sales tax by 2% to help fund rebuilding in the Westman Islands. The hike was supposed to be temporary but was never rescinded.

The second reading of the bill will take place at 7:00 PM tonight. The bill is required to undergo three readings before it can be passed.

Residents allowed to retrieve belongings

All Grindavík residents were permitted to enter the town for a short period this afternoon in order to retrieve belongings and pets. The earthquakes on the peninsula have subsided since Friday and the situation remains largely unchanged since then. The damage caused by the quakes is visible across town, including crevasses across roads and cracks in buildings. While the magma intrusion still stretches across the town, threatening from below, experts are now saying a possible eruption could be smaller than previously feared.

Iceland’s Surfers Fight to Save the Wave

Surfer by Snæfellsnes, West Iceland

Iceland’s surfers have started a petition to stop a harbour expansion that would destroy the country’s most popular and consistent surfing waves. The location in question is Þorlákshöfn, Southwest Iceland, where the local municipality’s plans to expand the harbour would destroy the very characteristics that have made the site a prime surfing location.

The harbour expansion has also stirred controversy outside the surfing community, as it is spurred by a mining project in the region that would use the expanded harbour for export.

Steinarr Lár Steinarsson, chairman of the Icelandic Surfing Association (Brimbrettafélag Íslands) told The Inertia that the association has begun working with harbour designer Simon Brandi Mortensen and the Australian company DHI Group to propose alternate designs for the harbour that would not negatively affect the waves. If that doesn’t work, Steinarr Lár said the association would take legal action against the development.

The petition’s wording is hopeful. “We believe that solutions can be found to satisfy all parties and ensure that this unique place is preserved,” it reads in part.

Surfing was first introduced to Icelanders by American soldiers who surfed from the army base in Keflavík. They were the first to discover the best surfing spots in the country, but the sport didn’t quite catch on among the locals. Ten years ago, there were around 20-30 regular surfers in the country, but in recent years, the community has grown to include hundreds of surfers.

Read more about surfing in Iceland here.

Eruption Begun on Reykjanes Peninsula

reykjanes eruption 2023

A volcanic eruption began on the Reykjanes peninsula today at 4:40 PM.

Smoke is rising from the slopes of Litli Hrútur and magma has breached the surface, according to nature hazard specialist Kristín Elísa Guðmundsdóttir with the Icelandic Met Office.

Due to the current placement of the webcam, the eruption site is not currently visible. People are asked to stay away from the eruption site until response teams have arrived.

This is a developing situation. This article will be updated.

[visual-link-preview encoded=”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”]

Flights Cancelled, Passengers Unable to Disembark Due to High Winds

Gale-force winds and heavy snowshowers caused considerable disruptions for travellers on Sunday, Mbl.is and RÚV report. While most international flights were cancelled or delayed before they departed, however, eight flights from North America were already en route to Keflavík when the weather took a turn for the worst. The unfortunate passengers on seven of these flights were stuck in their planes for six or more hours, as it was too windy to use jet bridges for disembarkation.

On Sunday, the Met Office issued an orange warning for the west and southwest of Iceland, which experienced winds of 18-28 m/s [40-62 mph]; a yellow warning was issued for the rest of the country, where winds gusted at an ever-so-slightly calmer 18-25 m/s [40-55 mph].

Search and Rescue teams used a bus and another large vehicle to shelter an external stairway from the wind. Image via Lögreglan á Suðurnesjum, FB

Eight hundred passengers stranded in planes on runway

Eight airplanes transporting close to 800 passengers from North America landed at Keflavík on Sunday morning around 6:00 am. One of these planes, arriving from Newark, New Jersey, was able to disembark without issue. The other seven were not so lucky. The wind picked up and became too strong to allow for the use of jet bridges. Search and Rescue teams were called in to assist with the disembarking process.

As of 1:00 pm, only one plane’s passengers had been able to exit their aircraft. Search and Rescue teams managed to successfully evacuate the flight, which had flown in from Miami, Florida, by rolling an external stairway up to the pane, sheltering it from the wind with large vehicles, and rigging up a rope system to help passengers keep their balance as they went out into the frosty gusts.

At time of writing, Search and Rescue teams were still working diligently to evacuate the remaining airplanes, and do so as safely as possible.

Hafnarfjörður to Pay Childcare Stipends to Parents, Increase Wages for Childminders

A woman walking two young children through the snow

Parents of children a year and older in the town of Hafnarfjörður may now apply to receive a monthly childcare stipend from the local government, mbl.is reports. These payments are equal to those made to professional childminders, or “day parents,” and are intended to allow parents stay at home with their children longer, therefore bridging the gap between when their parental leave ends, and preschool begins. The town has also approved higher hourly rates for day parents, as well as the establishment of a special fund that will provide grants for day parents who have been municipally employed for at least a year. The Hafnarfjörður town council approved the measures, effective retroactive to January 1, at its recent meeting.

In Focus: The Preschool System

Day parents are self-employed professionals who are licensed by, and receive work permits from, municipal authorities. These individuals care for children who are either too young to enter preschool, children who are still on the waitlist for a place in the overcrowded pre-k system, and/or children who simply need a smaller, more personalized environment. Licensed day parents generally look after small groups of young children in at-home settings.

In its announcement about the new measures, the Hafnarfjörður town council said it believes that new parents need a wider variety of practical solutions for childcare and is looking into such options as extending parental leave and creating more choice within the pre-k and day parent systems. The town, which has a population of just over 29,700 people, currently has just 26 licensed day parents.

Day parents ‘an important pillar of childcare system’

Hafnarfjörður appreciates that “day parents are an important pillar of the daycare system,” and the town hopes to recruit more qualified individuals to the profession. Day parents who have worked for Hafnarfjörður for a minimum of 12 months can now apply for a grant of ISK 300,000 [$2,105; €1,944]. Hourly wages for day parents will also increase from ISK 8,433 [$59; €55] to ISK 12,800 [$90; €83] an hour.

The council also seeks to better support low-income families and families with multiple young children. Low-income parents can apply for additional subsidies, for one, and ‘sibling discounts’ are available for siblings who go to the same day parent, preschool, or after-school program. The second child receives a 75% discount on fees and the third 100%.