Welcome to Reykjavik
We landed at Iceland's Keflavik airport in a major wind storm. Like knock you over sort of wind that followed a major winter storm the previous night. We'd heard it cancelled tours and stranded some tourists in a school to wait it out.
Walking around Reykjavik, the sidewalks were clear. However, in the span of 4 hours, we experienced sun, wind, snow, and sleet. We checked into our apartment rental; stocked up on some food; roamed up and down Laugavegur bar-hopping and checking out the street art. Over dinner, we finalized the plan for roaming the South Shore for waterfalls, black sand beaches, and epic landscapes.
Mother Nature is hilarious
I live in a part of the States that a light snow dusting is a situation. But what we woke up to was completely insane. It snowed over night 51cm (that's more than a foot and a half) breaking the record set in 1931.
Clearly we weren't going anywhere, at least not in a car. We suited up to explore. We made it down to the Harpa, ordered a beer in the cafe (trekking in snow is thirsty work) and decided to get the car out just to see how far we could get.
Having only a few hours of daylight, we ventured out on highway 1 and detoured on the first road towards the coast. We found a black sand beach (all of the coast is black sand) and some Icelandic horses before heading back.
Journey to the Secret Lagoon
Some tours were operating by the second day, but the snow didn't go anywhere. We decided we needed to soak in some geothermal heated water, because that's what you do in Iceland. The Golden Circle was open, we'd check out Gullfoss waterfall and Strokkur geyser and find the Secret Lagoon in Fludir.
Armed with the MiFi provided in our rental and Google maps, we set out. An hour into the drive, we had to turn around. The main road was suddenly closed. Retracing our steps, we diverted around some more closures. Finally we found Fludir a couple hours later. We needed food, settling on Mika a few miles away. They make their own chocolate and the food was surprisingly amazing. I had the freshest salad picked from nearby greenhouses with their white chocolate-chili dressing and langoustines.
It's not much of a secret
Google hot springs in Iceland and the Secret Lagoon is one of the first results (aside from the obvious, Blue Lagoon). The facilities are rustic, but clean. A locker is provided and a towel can be rented if needed. You can buy light snacks, soft drinks, and beer in the lobby.
After hours of driving, we were finally soaking with a beer in hand. There were some small tour buses, but thankfully no mega buses. The pool is surrounded by hot springs and it's own mini geyser. One of the oldest pools in Iceland, it is kept authentic with pebble floor and rock sides. The water was very warm ranging to scalding hot as you waded closer to a hot spring or the geyser. Yes, you will freeze hopping the short way from the locker room to the pool. Don't wear white, there is some algae in the water.
Originally we were going to book tours for Blue Lagoon, Northern Lights, and South Shore tours, but organized tours are not usually my style.
Pros - It's much cheaper to rent a car and, of course, freedom to do as you please. Had we booked tours, we would have been stuck in Reykjavik. The few tours I've been on in my life, it seemed I didn't have enough time in some places and way too much time in others. Plus, food options on day-long tours tends to be terrible. Remember to bring a car charger with you and it's helpful to agree on a playlist with your travel mate ahead of time!
After our soak, we found Gullfoss waterfall and Strokkur geyser. Deciding just to stay out, we had dinner and then chased the Northern Lights. Had we been on a tour, we would have been slaves to their itinerary.
Cons - It takes a lot of research to go out on your own. Had we not had the MiFi, we would have been very lost with all the road closures. Although, I always wonder if we are driving by gems or missing the back story behind an attraction; I prefer my freedom armed with Google and guide books.
Private apartment rental: I've never used Airbnb, but I have had a lot of success renting through HomeAway/VRBO. If you are looking for an apartment in Reykjavik I highly recommend this penthouse apartment on Laugavegur. It's fully stocked with everything you need and within walking distance to most things you'd want to do in Reykjavik. The provided MiFi and covered on-site parking were lifesavers in the storm! Leave your guide books at home, those are provided as well.