If you can only do one trip during your visit to Iceland, make it this one – The Golden Circle.
The Golden Circle is one of the most popular tourist routes in the country, and for good reason too! This is a fantastic introduction to the diversity of the Icelandic nature. Exploding geysirs, powerful waterfalls, rocky lava fields, a national park, they’ve got it all!
The tour begins in Reykjavik, you can either catch a bus from the BSI bus terminal or arrange pick-up from your hotel. The Golden Circle gets its name from Gulfoss (AKA the Golden Waterfall) and “Circle” as the journey is a ~300km loop from the capital to south-west Iceland.
If you’ve booked a tour (presumably with Reykjavik Excursions but I’m a fan of the slightly cheaper BusTravel) then the duration is usually 6-8 hours and costs approximately €65-80 depending on who you choose.
You don’t stop here but you’ll be glued to the windows so I’ll give it a mention!
45km east of Reykjavik (and usually the first stop unless the roads are busy and they sometimes go the other way around the loop instead), this is where you realise that Iceland isn’t like anywhere else. No, that’s not a fire you see in the hills. There is actually steam coming up from the ground! This town is geothermally active as the area is a part of the Hengill central volcano. Here they have a lot of (minor!) earthquakes but it’s unlikely you’ll feel them so don’t worry! Hveragerði is a good place for greenhouses as they’re kept warm by the hot springs. You don’t get a tour of the greenhouses as such but on the way back after the sun has gone down, they look really cute lit up in fairy lights!
You will, however, make a stop at the Earthquake Exhibition just past Hveragerði. Here you can see the after effects of earthquakes in this area, photographs, video footage, etc. Or you can just visit the souvenir shop and the toilet.
You’ll need your coat for this one!
Gullfoss shows you the true force of Icelandic nature. Unless it’s Winter, you’ll be able to walk right down to the edge of the waterfall that you feel the mist on your face (or get absolutely drenched, depending on the wind direction). Be careful though, as the mother of Mother Nature plunges into a crevice 32 metres deep!
The Golden Waterfall gets its name from the colour it turns on a sunny day. Glacial water, due to the sediment within, is brown so when it meets the sun it does look truly golden.
There is a monument too, to Sigríður Tómasdóttir, which probably means nothing to you. So let me tell you this uplifting story:
Sigríður’s father owned Gulfoss waterfall at the beginning of the 20th century. Foreign investors realised that they could harness electricity from this powerful waterfall and wanted to turn the site into a hydroelectric powerplant. This broke Sigríður’s heart as she truly loved Gulfoss like nobody else. After threatening that she would jump into the waterfall if an agreement was made, she protested by walking the 120 km from Gulfoss to Reykjavik barefoot. When she arrived with bloody and battered feet, the people took her seriously and the powerplant was never built.
So if it wasn’t for dear Sigríður, Gulfoss would be a very different place today. Thank you!
The Haukadalur valley is where you will be dropped off next to see the Great Geysir and Strokkur. The Great Geysir is a lot quieter these days, sometimes not going off for years. When it does blow, however, it bursts up to 70 metres into the air.
Strokkur is the one you will be more excited by! This baby explodes every 10 (ish) minutes! Strokkur usually reaches up to 20 metres, but it has been known to hit 40 metres! I really don’t want to give too much away here, but I’ve never met anybody who wasn’t amazed at it!
Kerið is here too. Kerið is a volcanic crater lake, and the minerals from the soil make the water an incredible shade of blue, making it an excellent photo opportunity (as is everywhere on this trip!).
Þingvellir (Thingvellir) National Park:
The final stop (that is, unless your driver took you the other way round) is the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Þingvellir National Park. This ain’t no ordinary national park, mind you! The park is situated in a Rift Valley, so technically it’s tucked between the Eurasian tectonic plate and the North American plate.
Up until 1798 the Alþing (Icelandic parliament) held its sessions there, and still today the President’s summer house can be seen in the park. (Perks of the job!)
You might stop at Faxi too sometime during this tour. Faxi is another waterfall, full of salmon and is a popular fishing spot in Iceland.
So if you only have a short stay in Iceland, this is the perfect introduction to this mind-blowing country.