The Golden Circle is one of the most popular travel destinations in Iceland, especially for those who are only in the country on a short lay-over. It has in fact become compulsory for any Iceland itinerary; it combines history, natural wonders and incredible sights in a very concentrated region, which is perfect for people who want to see a variety of things in a short space of time.
Thingvellir, only an hour’s drive from Reykjavik is the first stop en route. It is a site of historical, cultural, and geological interest. It is remarkably, the sight of where the Icelandic Parliament was established all the way back in 930. It seems so strange as it is in quite a remote and desolate location when you get there!
Walking down from the Visitor’s Center, you find a large rift valley which you can walk through, which marks the crest of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. It is incredible to marvel at the geological formations there.
The Visitor’s Center has some interesting videos and you can learn all about the area, the natural wildlife which resides there, how the rift valley came to be created and the founding of the Parliament.
Jumping back in our car, we heading straight to Gullfoss waterfall which took about an hour’s drive. We decided to bypass Geysir which is situated between the two and visit there last, as that was where our campsite was that evening.
Gullfoss area was extremely windy, wet and cold when we were there, and our Lonely Planet travel guide advised that Gullfoss can be ‘disappointing’ in bad weather. We neared with low expectations as visibility was quite bad, but we were blown away by the sheer awesomeness of this waterfall!
There are several paths to take; one where you can see the waterfall from above and another one to go down by the water and see it up close, with the danger of getting very, very wet! We of course, took both paths. It was great to see the waterfall from different perspectives, but it was quite exhilarating to go so close to the waterfall and get splashed.
We drove back towards Geysir, which was a 30 minute drive from Gullfoss. As it was my first day driving, I was relieved to have survived Day 1 intact without too many problems. We did end up getting lost at the beginning as we took the wrong road. But after getting an Icelandic SIM and connecting to my phone’s GPS navigation, we were back on track in no time. There was a slight problem with the car not starting, but we were saved by our Icelandic hero, who I only know as Titi who got it working again. He was so helpful and friendly and I’m so grateful for his help. He works in the Gullfoss shop, so if you see him, say hi from the distressed English traveller who didn’t have her car properly in the ‘Park’ mode on the automatic gearbox…
Geysir is the best place along the Golden Circle route, in my opinion, to go for a meal. There are more options here than at Thingvellir or Gullfoss. Thingvellir Information Center, a five minute drive from Thingvellir Visitor’s Center (more on this in the snorkelling post!), has a café and Gullfoss also has a café. Geysir has a hotel restaurant and two cafés, one has a little tuck shop for snacks, both adjacent to the souvenir shop.
Before even considering seeing Geysir, we located the café and enjoyed a very tasty Lamb Soup in the warm. We also asked where the campsite was located, and it was literally across the road which was very handy. We took the car across and decided to pitch the tent while it wasn’t raining, before walking across to Geysir.
Geysir is the most exciting stop on the Golden Circle, as although we know Stokkur is active and erupts every 5-10 minutes, it is difficult to time exactly when it will happen! Everyone is standing there, poised with their cameras ready and their fingers on the shutter, waiting to shoot this natural wonder.
It all happens so fast and before you know it, there is this massive jet of boiling water about 20m into the air!
Then all of a sudden, it is over, and there is just some steam floating about in the air. And you find yourself waiting for it to happen all over again, and again!
The next day we drove to Silfra, near Thingvellir, to experience snorkelling between two continents in clear, icy water with DIVE.is (I will be doing a separate post just on this). It was an incredible experience and was an massive highlight of the trip!
We also drove to Kerð (Kerid), a volcanic crater lake, 30 minutes drive south of Thingvellir. There was an entrance fee for this (400ISK), but it was worth paying to see it.
We were pressed for time, as we still had to drive to Vik that evening, which is a two hour drive south and it was already 4pm by then. Still, we stretched our legs briefly and walked around the top of the crater which takes about 15 minutes. You can also walk down to the lake which takes 5 minutes. The water is a beautiful shade of blue.
Our drive through the Golden Circle was a fantastic start to our Icelandic Road Trip to get a taster for Iceland’s magnificent nature and variety in landscapes, more was sure to come! My favourite region however, was in the South, when we visited Skaftafell and Jökulsárlón in the Vatnajökull National Park (1 hour 30 minute drive east of Vik). If I could only go back to one or the other, it would have to be Vatnajökull National Park, for reasons you will have to find out about in a coming post…